Nolan is a great director, no doubt about that. He and his writer brother Jonathan Nolan have made some of the most interesting Hollywood pictures in recent memory, notably Dark Knight and Inception. But twice now, Nolan and Nolan have made what could have been great movies then ruined them with really, really, really silly twists. Twists so mind-boggingly ridiculous they not only stretch credibility, they run credibility through a shredder, burn the remains then piss on the ashes.
Movies have to make sense. That doesn’t mean everything has to be “real” or that you can’t do a fantasy movie. Fantasy films simply need to have internal logic. The writers set up a fantasy world, create the rules for that world, and stick to them.
Warning. Spoilers ahead!
It’s a fascinating film, up until the twist. See both Bale and Hackman pull this similar illusion where one of them enters a locked cabinet then reappears in another locked cabinet. Jackman’s Robert Angier takes this to a whole new level, he disappears inside a transporting machine then magically appears in the audience moments later. Seemingly impossible, right?
It’s the explanation for this trick that kills the movie. Turns out Jackman’s character, Robert Angier, is sent on a wild goose chase to see if Nikola Tesla can build him an actual teleporter. Tesla tries, fails, then discovers his machine actually is a cloning machine that makes a perfect copy of anything put in it and teleports that to a nearby location.
So night after night. Robert Angier is cloning himself, one copy appearing backstage and the other dropping into a water tank to drown.
You know what, Nolan brothers, you lost me. Completely and utterly lost me. While I could almost accept Tesla inventing a teleporter, there’s no way I’m going with the fabulous electric cloner. It just isn’t possible given the state of science at the time period. It isn’t possible given the state of science now. And we’ve got iPods. Back then, alternating current and the induction motor were the big boys on the block.
Which is just too bad, because other than that one plot element, The Prestige is a great film. Every other aspect of it, every other twist (there are many) are brilliant. But that one, central idea. I just can’t swallow it. And so I must reject the film in its entirety.
The “Bootstrap Paradox” is that moment in The Terminator when you realize that Reese, sent back in time by John Conner, is the one who impregnates Sarah Conner with John Conner. It’s an impossibility. If, in the future, it is John Conner who sends Reese back to protect Sarah Conner, Reese cannot be Conner’s father because in the original timeline (before he was sent back) Sarah never met Reese, therefore John Conner never existed to send Reese back in the first place.
I know, right?
I had thought Interstellar avoided this. You know the premise: Earth is dying, humanity is on the verge of extinction, and we need to move to another planet if we’re going to survive. The hero, Cooper, journeys through an artificial wormhole (built by some alien race and conveniently placed near Saturn for our use) to a distant galaxy, has all sorts of adventures which end with him sacrificing himself by plunging into a black hole where he is saved by advanced five dimensional beings (ultra evolved humans from the future, as it turns out.) He then enters a strange 4D representation of five dimensional space and uses gravity strings to communicate into his past and thus transmit important data which leads to the salvation of the human race.
A paradox. The bootstrap paradox. (As in “lifting yourself by the bootstraps.”)
Now I know some argue that high-end theoretical physics may indicate that the bootstrap paradox is possible, but I don’t really give a crap. I’m not a theoretical physicist. Neither are most of the people watching the movie. Bootstrap is a cheat, a cop out, the laziest trick in the book. A twist that, to borrow from Spinal Tap, seems clever but is actually stupid. It’s the weakest of all plot devices and one, that in this case, robs what was very nearly a truly great film of its power.
Worse, how hard would it have been to leave that out? All Cooper and his team needed to do was get to the other galaxy on their own (a natural wormhole? Sure. Hell. I’d even buy Nikola Tesla having built a wormhole machine which is unearthed in a crumbling Colorado Springs warehouse.)
But bootstrap, no.
Which I’m kind of pissed about. Because Interstellar was close. Oh man, so close.
Nolan and Nolan are smart. Trouble is, they're sometimes too smart.